Canadian Consulting Engineer

Clearing the Fog Around the Name

Ask the average person and they will have only the vaguest notion of what the title "consulting engineer" means. Certainly, few people know the difference between a consulting and a professional engineer. Consulting Engineers of Ontario is finding...

August 1, 2004  By Bronwen Parsons

Ask the average person and they will have only the vaguest notion of what the title “consulting engineer” means. Certainly, few people know the difference between a consulting and a professional engineer. Consulting Engineers of Ontario is finding that even clients in the construction industry aren’t much better informed. In that province, the situation is especially complicated by the requirement to have a Certificate of Authorization in order to supply professional services to the public.

Across the country, the title means vastly different things in different provinces. At one extreme is Saskatchewan, where the designation is a licence to practise. For 40 years, it has been compulsory to be licensed as a “consulting engineer” if you perform engineering services for the public. The licence is renewable every five years and is tied to a specific area of practice. The Asssociation of Professional Engineeers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan (APEGNS) web site lists about 50 different fields and specialties.

By contrast, most other provinces are much more free and easy about the title. In Alberta and Quebec, for example, any licensed professional engineer can call him or herself a consulting engineer without having to ask permission from the professional association.

Seeking to boost the potency of the title, Consulting Engineers of Ontario is casting one eye on the Saskatchewan example. A CEO task force chaired by Anne Poschmann, P.Eng. of Golder Associates has written a discussion paper and been canvassing firms on various proposals. (Professional Engineers of Ontario also has a task force looking at the consulting engineer designation and the two committees are conferring.)

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The CEO task force isn’t proposing to make it compulsory to have a consulting engineer licence in order to offer services to the public, but it is suggesting tightening the rules. For one thing they would raise the bar and limit the designation to someone with 10 years’ experience in the field on top of the four years required for licensing. They would expect title-holders to commit themselves to a professional development program. Even more important, they want the designation to be linked to an individual’s areas of practice.

The task force reported at CEO’s annual meeting in June that a small survey of firms had shown a positive response to most of their proposals.

Strengthening the consulting engineer title by giving it more teeth is a good one — especially if the rules could be made uniform across the country. A nationally recognized title is the best means for engineers with superior skills and experience to show their value to clients. In that way it can be an important marketing tool. Having a clear identity and unified voice is important these days, given the proliferation of new types of engineering qualification emerging — limited licenses for technologists and technicians, for internationally trained engineers, specialist certifications issued by governments, etc.

Linking the designated consulting engineer title to a field of expertise would also serve the interests of clients. Right now, a client might approach Professional Engineers of Ontario to find out which firms are experts in, say, water quality, and the information is not available. CEO’s discussion paper suggests keeping a register of consulting engineers with their specialties that would be accessible by the public.

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